EIF music reviews: Nadine Shah | black midi | Moses Boyd
Kitchen Sink is a darkly humorous feminist collection, in celebration of her mum (who has died since the release of the album) while railing against traditional domestic roles. Its performance was preceded impishly by a playlist of bygone songs of love and marriage. Nadine Shah got married last month (“poor bugger,” she told The Scotsman at the time).
If Shah was in any way intimidated by the hugeness of the Festival’s Edinburgh Park arena, it didn’t show. Backed by her black clad band of musical brothers, including Neil MacColl (song of Ewan and Peggy Seeger) on guitar and her producer Ben Hillier, she kicked off with the angry cackle of Club Cougar, a demand for r-e-s-p-e-c-t as she walks home, which referenced some of the anachronistic lyrics from the pre-show playlist and was driven by a deep-seated bassline, clacking drums and a pugnacious keyboard refrain.
Shah’s theatrical alto sounded like a friendlier Siouxsie Sioux, all the better when backed by the punchy delivery of Ladies for Babies (Goats for Love) or the spidery guitar and trumpet of Evil - with its shades of Sioux’s side project The Creatures - or when conveying the strutting Buckfast (“since we're in Scotland").
She is a rock singer with a chanson spirit, often setting her dramatic soaring war cry vocals to pile-driving rockabilly rhythms or the powerful prowl and gritty guitars of Ukrainian Wine. The more conventional driving rock of Holiday Destination did the business but Shah would also gleefully throw in a curveball hippy croon with unexpected recorder solo.
Given that these songs were being performed live for only the second time, Shah joked around her use of lyric sheets. But there was no need for any prompting on Prayer Mat, a song for her mum. That one came straight from the soul.
black midi (****) also brought a spirit of mischief, a sense of occasion and a club show intensity to the Edinburgh Park pavilion. Self-styled playfully as "the hardest working band in showbusiness", this London outfit are a 21st century Mothers of Invention, revelling in their offbeat amalgam of punk prog, math rock, nosebleed thrash and jazz fusion, embellished with additional disparate elements which shouldn't - and indeed don't - match but combine uncomfortably in a frenzy of eccentricity.
Formed in 2017, they quickly gained a reputation for free experimentation and ferocious performance, amassing a strong cult following for their bloodyminded, hyper-stimulated blend of rock minimalism, strident patterns, declamatory vocals and restless time signatures.
Powered by the speed metal riffola of frontman Geordie Greep, sprint-to-the-tape drumming from Morgan Simpson and sirening saxophone of Kaidi Akinnibi, they are generally not a band to sit down for but they succeeded in cutting through the social distance with their sheer visceral momentum. It was hard to tell where one track ended and another began. Or was it all just one agitated loop?
Respite – if required – came with the handbrake turn into an easy listening croon. The jabbering John L, seemingly conducted at double speed, was perversely contrasted witha lounge interlude on keyboards. This was music made by a very weird committee, pushing perceptions of what they could get away with next. As for the crowd-pandering concept of the encore, forget it. After one hour of noise rock pummelling, they downed tools abruptly and left the crowd reeling.
If black midi are the Marmite, jazz drummer Moses Boyd (****) is the toast of the London crossover scene. A graduate of the ground-breaking Tomorrow’s Warriors programme to nurture future jazz talent, Boyd came to wider recognition when his debut album, Dark Matter, was nominated for the 2020 Mercury Prize, the latest in a long line of seemingly tokenist jazz nominees to outshine the rest of the shortlist but be overlooked for the main prize.
One can’t imagine Boyd getting too ruffled about that as he breathed his set into life with the subtle shimmer of cymbals, smoothly slathered with the smokiest saxophone, aqueous keyboard chords, lyrical intervals and then a hint of a psych jazz build-up before his band settled into an effortless groove.
Boyd's tight but loose fluidity was complemented by Artie Zaitz on guitar, Donovan Haffner on alto sax and Renato Paris holding down the bass notes as well as the keys (“doing two jobs and getting paid for one"), in dialogue with himself as the deep burp of electric bass was followed by the deeper drones of synthesizer. Zaitz provided the first solo of the set, a mesmeric noodling interlude punctuated by keening notes, and supported by soulful sax.
Eventually, this seamless suite resolved into a funkier phase, with piercing runs on guitar, fast, skittery beats and warm electro funk chords overlaid with melodic sax. Despite the demonic red light trained on him from above, Boyd favoured taut precision over showmanship for his solo, opening with the terse rat-a-tat of snare, moving to a similarly understated display on toms and then some sweet release with the band rejoining him for a lithe, luxurious stretch.
The screens behind them were filled intermittently with flickering footage, including images from beloved sitcom Desmond's but the stagecraft was mostly confined to a dynamic lightshow, with Zaitz playing the moody blues under burnished red lights, before the band expanded on the delicate, soulful mood, pushing towards a rare crescendo.
Boyd is known for his infusion of club culture, and more accustomed to standing gigs than seated concerts, but he needn’t have been so shy in eventually introducing the elastic groove and acid Afrobeat jitter of B.T.B. to round off an otherwise sedentary set.